Giulia Mancardi is a final year PhD student at University College London, her project is focused on how calcium phosphate, the main component of bone and teeth, originates. She is a computational chemist, so do not expect to see her with a lab-coat and goggles (except at Soapbox Science)! She does not work in a lab, but in an office and she makes simulations of atoms and molecules in a supercomputer. You can catch Giulia on her soapbox in Cardiff on Saturday 10th June, 2017. She will be giving a talk called: “The chemistry behind the formation of our bones”
SS: Giulia, how did you get to your current position?
GM: I am a final year PhD student in computational chemistry at University College London. I studied my BSc and MSc in Chemistry in my country, Italy, in Torino. During the final year of my Master, I got the opportunity to spend 5 months in Aberdeen Scotland to perform some experiments for the thesis with the Erasmus program. It was my first time abroad and I believe the Erasmus opportunity opened my horizons, and I learnt so many things being far from home! I met my supervisor during a conference at Torino University, she gave a very interesting talk on Bioglasses – the topic of my Master thesis – and I decided to talk with her during the coffee break. I told her that I was interested in becoming a theoretical chemist and doing a PhD. Some months later, she contacted me about a new position in her group and I applied straight away. I started my PhD in University College London and, after a year, I moved to Cardiff to follow my supervisor, who got a position at Cardiff University.
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
GM: Well, as far as I can remember, I have always been interested in knowing WHY things happen and HOW things are made. My parents were trying to explain everything to me, but every time I wanted to know more WHYs and HOWs. During high school, I was undecided about which university career I wanted to take: Chemistry or Physics? My hearth then pushed me towards Chemistry, as my grandfather, who passed away few years earlier, was a Chemist.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
GM: I am now studying how bones are formed…. and everything happens in a computer! Let me explain better; I am a computational chemist, which means that I simulate atoms and molecules using a supercomputer. That is fascinating for me because I can observe how things happen at a level that is not reachable in the lab, and I am doing “green chemistry” as no toxic compounds or smelling solvents are involved in my research. And the bonus is that what I am doing represents a step forward to understanding HOW we are made and can help physicians to answer some of the WHYs about bad things that happen in our body. I am happy to think that I am doing something that one day will allow the discovery of new remedies for things like osteoporosis or bone cancer.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science Cardiff 2017 in the first place?
GM: I participated to Soapbox Science Cardiff 2016 as a volunteer and I decided, this time, to be one of the speakers. I like challenges and Soapbox Science is one for me, as I have never given a talk to a non-scientific public, and I believe this will be an amazing opportunity to share a piece of science… and maybe instill the love for chemistry in someone!
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
GM: I would like more communication between scientists and non-scientists, and I believe the scientists, not the journalists, should do this as they may alter the original information to sell it. I also do not share the philosophy of “publish or perish” that is spread in the academia, as it lowers the quality of the published stuff.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?
GM: Choose to do a PhD only if you are very curious and passionate, because what determines the success of a PhD student is how much passion drives him/her, not how “genius” he/she is.